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Teddy Pendergrass: TP (1980)

Classic soul album CD review

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TP
US Philadelphia International 36745, 1980
CD reissue by US Right Stuff / UK Edsel
1) Is It Still Good To Ya 2) Take Me In Your Arms Tonight 3) I Just Called To Say 4) Can't We Try 5) Feel The Fire (duet with Stephanie Mills) 6) Girl You Know 7) Love TKO 8) Let Me Love You

Produced by Ashford & Simpson, Dexter Wansel, Teddy Pendergrass, Cecil Womack, Cynthia Biggs, John R. Faith, McFadden, Whitehead & Cohen

As you can see from the credits, the producers consisted of a slightly more diverse bunch than before, and Gamble & Huff only acted as executive producers. Nevertheless, TP is an excellent album and contains a couple of soul classics.

The opening cut for one deserves such an accolade. Written by Ashford & Simpson, whom Teddy had met a while ago when they opened shows for him, it was also originally performed by the legendary duo on their 1978 album of the same name. Teddy initially sings the mightily soulful ballad tune in a wonderfully warm and expressive tone, but after a while it seems almost as if some kind of dam breaks inside him and he switches to low-down raspy preaching. His shattering super-emotional delivery is almost painful to listen to; the man sounds like an open wound. If you are a real soul fan, you cannot live without this track. The other Ashford & Simpson contribution, Girl You Know, is an emphatic uptempo pounder, nothing extraordinary but a typically soulful A & S tune nevertheless.

The other bona fide classic of the album is the Cecil Womack – Gip Nobel composition Love T.K.O. It was originally performed by the late great David Oliver, and later also interpreted by Cecil & Linda Womack on their first (and overwhelmingly best) album, although it should be mentioned that the best tune Cecil & Linda have ever performed is without a doubt Baby I’m Scared of You (James Gadson’s drum work is pure genius). Anyway, those two versions are both excellent to say the least, yet Teddy’s take on the subject is, for me, the ultimate interpretation of this ultra-soulful jewel. The second you hear the laid-back groove and get a taste of the instrumental nuances with bass, guitar, strings etc. you feel like you could listen to the song for about a week without a pause. But the real depth of the song comes from the profound composition and Teddy’s skilful reading where he finds just the right balance between the subtlety the song requires and the more emotionally charged style to which he is naturally inclined. Love T.K.O. defines the perfect combination of mellow and soulful. The second single of the album, it spent six weeks at second position on the R&B chart.

On I Just Called to Say it takes about two seconds to hear that this is another classy Cecil Womack composition. Teddy wisely relies on the beautiful melancholy melody, and the end result is a fascinating soul swayer and yet another personal favourite of mine.

Soul songstress extraordinaire Stephanie Mills is featured on two tracks. Steph had opened for Teddy in concerts, and Teddy had heard her sing the Peabo Bryson song Feel the Fire, which Stephanie had already cut in a highly soulful way for her 1979 album What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin’. Teddy & Steph’s version is as impressive as you would expect from these two magnificent soul throats with the tension heightening towards the end in a suitably dramatic fashion. The only downside is that the song ends too soon. The second duet with Stephanie is the Dexter Wansel tune Take Me in Your Arms Tonight, a snappy disco-funk mover which still sounds listenable mostly on the strength of the dynamic vocals.

The remaining tracks are less inspiring. The first single release, the MOR ballad Can’t We Try, is a pretentious tune despite Teddy’s best effort, but it did go up to number three on the charts, so apparently somebody liked it. Let Me Love You might otherwise be a decent enough McFadden, Whitehead & Cohen tune, but the utterly weird arrangement with its synth and guitar whining makes it virtually unlistenable.

Yet another platinum album for Teddy, and, in my mind, the second best Teddy Pendergrass album ever.

During 1980, Teddy also lent his vocal talent to Leon Huff’s solo album Here to Create Music. And before his next album, Teddy appeared on the charts on yet another duet with Stephanie Mills. Two Hearts (to be found on her 1981 Stephanie album) reached 3rd position on the R&B chart, and quite deservedly so. The sounds are rich and bassy, the melody attractive and the midtempo groove grabs you from the very start. Teddy & Stephanie complement each other beautifully, so it is safe to say that Two Hearts is a Mtume-Lucas production that stands the test of time as a dance track you can still listen to solely for its musical values.

- Petteri Ruotsalainen

Teddy Pendegrass Album Discography
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